It’s been 40 years since Roberto Clemente joined MLB’s elite 3000 hit club on September 30, 1972 after hitting a double off Mets’ lefty Jon Matlack at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, PA. Just one year prior to dishing out Roberto Clemente’s monumental 3000th hit in 1972, the young Mets prospect and the seven other American players on the
San Juan Senadores Winter League team were personally invited to visit Clemente at his home in Puerto Rico. Currently working as a Houston Astros Minor League pitching coordinator, Matlack recalled when Clemente gathered everyone in his trophy room to talk baseball: “I thought that was pretty classy on his part. He was very personable, showed us his trophy room and memorabilia and spent
a lot of time talking about hitting. Every part of me
was awe-struck.”Matlack reminisced: “This bat was leaning in a corner. Somebody asked about hitting, and he picked up the bat to demonstrate. I remember thinking, ‘That’s a big bat,’ and
I asked about it. He said it had the maximum dimensions. He set it back down, and when everybody sort of moved on, I grabbed hold of it. I could barely pick it up. It led me to believe how strong this guy really was.” Clemente’s strength was tested when Matlack faced “The Great One” six times prior to their final reunion in the fourth inning on September 30, 1972. Clemente was hitless off him with one walk in previous matchups. Matlack’s strategy this at-bat was to avoid a mistake on the inner half, while hoping Clemente would take a quality strike on the outside corner. On a 2-2 pitch, the lefty spun a curveball on the outside.
Matlack said, “As it left my hand,
I was a little upset, because I realized this thing’s not going to make the strike zone. But he took that long stride, kept himself back and pulled it off the left-center-field wall for a double.” Matlack did not recognize what had happened until the second-base umpire, Doug Harvey, presented the ball to Clemente. Jim Fregosi, the Mets’ shortstop who retrieved it, remembered Clemente’s rather nonchalant reaction. He raised his helmet briefly to the fans. Fregosi said, “He was pretty cool about everything he did. That’s how he was.” Fregosi believed Clemente understood the importance of #3000.